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Posts from the ‘Legal Education’ Category


Colorado innov conference: Critical Competencies for the New Normal

Panelists: Deborah Cantrell, Prof at Colorado; Neil Hamilton, Prof at St. Thomas; Paul Lippe, CEO at Legal OnRamp; Mark Roellig, Gen Counsel at MassMutual Life Ins.  Moderator: Helen Norton, Associate Dean at Colorado.

Paul Lippe [PL]:  World of law firms is the world of camera companies (analogize Kodak v. IPhone).  Value that private lawyers are providing is declining relative to most other fields, and that’s a problem.  On the other hand, the value of the rule of law has never been higher.  Law schools can choose.  They can become the IPhone; or they can say, well, it was fine being Nikon; why not just stay doing what we are doing.

PL:  law firms are not infinitely wise and sagacious.  Law school must look more capaciously at the world.  When you do so, it is obvious that it will be design thinking, and a new reality.  Coalition of the willing is a plurality, but not a majority in the law schools.

Neil Hamilton [NH]:  Expert-based professionals have been quite slow to change (perhaps excepting medicine, given radical changes to the market and to regulation).  Business friends think that legal educ and higher ed in general doesn’t survey folks to see what they want.  Surveys of firms list, in order, these key competencies:     1. Integrity/honesty/trustworthiness; 2. good judgment/common sense/problem solving; 3. analytical skills;  4. initiative/ambition/drive; 5. effective written/oral communication skills; 6. dedication to client service; 7. commitment to firm; 8. initiates and maintains strong work and team relationships.

NH:  least important, according to survey:  17. stress/crisis management; 18. leadership; 19. negotiation skills; 20. pro bono/community involvement.

Mark Roellig [MR]:  skills he views as necessary:  1. getting good results; 2. judgment; 3. strong work ethic; 4. communication skills; 5. strategic thinking; 6. teamwork; 7. efficient use of resources (decommodification/decoupling); 8. use of technology; 9. talent management; 10. environment of engagement.

Deborah Cantrell [DC]:  Practical wisdom (hat tip to Aristotle).  Competencies aren’t static; they change over time.  Practical wisdom is important to understanding the particularities of the issue before them.  Often in law schools we have seen practical wisdom as equivalent to professional responsibility and ethics.  But should be seen in more dynamic sense.

How can law schools specifically teach these competencies?

DC:  very hopeful that law profs can do this well.  Think, for example, of clinics in this regard.

MR:  Making effective, productive decisions in a multifaceted setting.  What are the elements of a good decision?  identifying what is the problem; get the right information; determine the facts & trends; critically evaluate the goals, obstacles, and responses; need to understand impact on multiple constituencies.  Right legal answer is not always the right answer.  Avoid immediate impulses; know what is socially right and wrong; know when to escalate a decision; and, frankly, your decision has to solve the problem; balance the degree of uncertainty compared to the certainty.

NH:  We should be sharing what we are learning.

PL:  a primary identification of lawyers and law students is the federal judge.  This a model of insulated folks with a high level of discretion and distance.  This doesn’t reflect much of what actually goes on in legal practice.  Law schools are structured to resist feedback.  In, say, medicine, the feedback look re patient care is much more efficient.



Colo innov conference: Teaching Law Students

Participants: Libby Cook, exec director of Philanthropiece, Inc.; Tyrone Glover, Office of Colo State Public Defender; Dan Katz, Prof at Michigan State; founder, ReInvent Law Lab; Jason Mendelson, Managing Director, Foundry Group.  Moderate: Paul Ohm, Prof at Colorado.

What are the drivers of change?

Dan Katz [DK]:  Legal startups are increasingly in volume (nearly 500).  This is an enormously big development.  Re students, they are responding to design mindset.  Need polytechnic skills.  If you can get those skills into people, you can open up a range of opportunities.  Not enough to have these skills; need to show them.  Example of a recent grad: worked on MiLaw, company works to digitize Michigan laws; now works at Novus Law.  Another student works at FTI Consulting.  “You want a job at newlaw, you need to look the part.”

T-shaped lawyer idea:

horizontally, encompasses the breadth of experience and background; vertically, the depth of knowledge in particular legal area.

Law (substantive legal expertise) + Tech (analytics, AI, computing) + Design (process mapping; design thinking) + Delivery

“Why in law schools?”  DK:  fundamental idea is building better lawyers.  They are leveraging technology to the max.

Jason Mendelson [JM]:  Is the demand for lawyers, growing, shrinking, or flat?  Are we about market share or are we expanding the pie?  The value of lawyers has never been lower, and will continue going lower.  Many clients now are not going to their lawyers; they are going to other things.  From standpoint of venture capitalist, which part of the market do I want to participate in.  I could invest in traditional legal marketplace where demand is flat; or I could invest in areas which may wipe out traditional law firms.  E.g., Modria.





Colo innovation conference: Change Management

Panelists are:

Nora Demleitner, Dean at Washington & Lee; Melissa Hart, Prof. at Colorado, William Henderson, Prof. at Indiana-Bloomington; Michael Moffitt, Dean at Oregon.  Moderator is Scott Peppet, Prof. at Colorado.

“What is going to be the rate & pace of innovation?
William Henderson [WH]:  experiment is taking place principally in the classroom.  By 2014, we are pretty good at it. Students, e.g., at IU, have teamwork and other key elements now hard-wired into the first year curriculum.  Now students would fight to keep it.  Trouble with experimentation is usually students.  They are the key resisters.  Need to persist by collecting data, presenting best arguments for change, undertaking experiments.

Melissa Hart [MH]:  Need institutional support.  Not easy.  Students evals can get in the way.  “Painful on a semester to semester basis.”  How does individual instructor evaluate when it does or doesn’t work?  Structures push back against experimentation.

MH:  costs of experimentation are very high.  Novel experimentation takes place at fancy private schools (thinking, especially, of K-12).

Nora Demleitner [ND]:  This generation and next generation of students will force us to do things differently.  Often driven by what their friends are doing at other schools or other sections at the same school.  Important to have a core group of faculty who buy in.  Students like being part of the process; they like being asked what works and what doesn’t.  Much more of a partnership.

ND:  on innovation in law schools, key problem is with the discipline of lawyering, especially risk aversion among lawyers and law firms.

Michael Moffitt [MM]:  One problem is the academic cycle (of the semester and students’ progression).  Not many opportunities to iterate if you want is wild experimentation.  Law schools may be punished in rankings.  Moreover, we are in an era in which innovation is essential, but the present time is difficult given the downtown in law apps.  What we’ll find is this:  “Well, we have changed the way we teach first-year property, but law students still don’t come here.”  In other words, what will law schools see as the principal payoff for innovation (at least in the short and intermediate-term).

“What are some of the positive things you have seen around your or another law school?”

ND: Description of Washington & Lee third-year curriculum.  Deep immersion in legal practice.  (Interesting, as ND notes, that law firm training has been changing in meaningful ways.  Key that skills-training curriculum keeps up).

MM: Recognition that there was a declining demand for our principal product — the JD — and so we have moved some of our teaching capacity to the undergraduate and graduate level.  This focus mirrors “Tetris-like” the shifting demand among JD students.  The graphs (declining law school apps) stop debate in faculty meetings about whether there should be significant change.

MM:  Undergrads want this stuff.  Learning law from law profs is “unbelievably sexy to undergrad students.”  At the undergrad level, it is a marriage of capacity (law school) and demand (undergrads).

“What are the real barriers to developing a new model?”

WH:  faculty meetings.  Idea that you have to have consensus.  Why not:  “I have an idea.  In my small sandbox, no one gets hurt.”  How about take a small group of the willing?  Doubt is the biggest barrier, simply not starting.  Make the contributions small.  Little wins.

MH:  Way that the reward system for legal academics is structured.  Where traditional model is 40-40-20 (teaching, research, & service).  Suppose law school said, for awhile, it should be 80-20, the idea being “take on an experiment.”  ND:  But this would be unrealistic for untenured faculty member.  Would be a career killer.

WH:  It is critical that the market responds well to these innovations.  This isn’t an aesthetic enterprise where the professors are impressed by what we are doing.  It needs to catch fire in the employment context.  (DBR:  Hard question for Wash & Lee is why employers haven’t taken to the experiment, that is, they haven’t seen meaningful upticks in bar-required employment.  Doesn’t mean that the matter is settled. Could be a time lag.  But it is a real question of why it is that Biglaw has not affirmed the value of W & L unquestionably novel curricular experiments).

“Is tenure a barrier to change?”

MH:  yes, as it is currently structured.  Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it.  Rather, the question is how we best think about our jobs and our responsibilities.  Why should we think law prof job is like history prof job?

Do what extent do deans incentivize faculty members to engage in entrepreneurial activity?

DBR:  The main matter is what the market values.  In the case of faculty members, this value comes from the elite legal academy and also, to a lesser degree, opinion leaders in legal practice.  When the external marketplace values innovative teaching and (especially) research, faculty members will respond to these incentives and will devote greater effort and energies to these endeavors.

Why don’t a few law schools brand themselves as real innovators?

WH:  It’s going to happen.  New models are emerging.

Are students responding?



Colorado innov conference: Discussion of design thinking; relevance to legal education

Entrepreneurship & innovation is a mindset.  Doesn’t pertain to private sector versus public sector.

If we’re not careful, innovation becomes associated with young, hungry tech entrepreneur.  But this doesn’t capture.   Weiser:  “young, African American woman in the local public defenders office” can be an innovator, an entrepreneur.

Difficulty is law students, training to be lawyers, don’t view their professional identity, as students and would-be lawyers, as entrepreneurs.

Gembel:  challenge is to get students to unlearn all the bad habits they learned in elementary school.   In addition to, founders are working on creating a K-12 lab to get at the kids early.  “How do you educate legal thinkers starting in grade school?”

Weiser:  challenge of “dualistic thinking.”  “It’s really important to get good grades, nothing else matters” or “grades don’t matter, it is important how I develop my personal narrative.”  Neither captures it.  How do you create a narrative of the whole person and professional so that you can identify the mindset of an emerging entrepreneur.

Individuals should discover their own narrative based on their own experiences.  Don’t force the law student into the box of “LAWYER.”  How to you give confidence to form their own narrative.

With regard to developing “competencies,” how has the reverse engineered the “competencies” in order to get the students to the right level.  Gimbel:  capacity is better way to frame it than competency, as competency views an “end” rather than an iterative, ongoing process.

Importance of resilience.  Weiser: lawyers identify this quality as essential.  Gimbel:  “How do you deal with failure” is not quite the right way to capture it.  Should reframe the tackling of problem that doesn’t yield good result as potentially successful in enabling students to make better progress.  Other element of resilience is how students respond to crashing.  How does student get him/herself back up?

Q:  what is the future of legal education?  Weiser:  Bright, for those willing to experiment; figure out where are these successful alums and how did their get there?  Answers are out there; we have just been looking at the wrong problems.  Gimbel:  future will depend on its ability to experiment.  Don’t look at alums; look at the current and prospective students.

Q:  our job is prepare our students from the profession that is here now.  Usually that means Biglaw.  challenge is how to enable students to succeed for profession that will emerge in 10-20 years, even though we want to be sure that they get jobs today.

Weiser:  need to define success in law placement broadly and imaginatively.

Gimbel:  transformation comes from outside in first, and then inside out.


Colorado Innov conference: George Kembel, co-founder of Stanford

We’re all products of the industrial era.  Groomed to solve problems we know the answer to.  Challenge now:  we’re in an environment where we don’t know how to lead our way to uncertain outcomes.

“The cost of planning now exceeds the cost of experimentation.”  In an environment increasingly complex, this doesn’t work.  When you get your plan, it is either wrong or irrelevant.  (DBR:  but this depends on the structure and function of the plan.  Counsels way of planning, not eschewing of planning).  Responds to the idea that everything is a creative act.  We don’t nurture the creative potential of all our students. started in order to respond to this process of problem-solving.  Introduce students to a creative problem and give them an opportunity to practice on these messy problems.

If we want a game-changer, you can’t predict innovation.  You should need a fundamentally different approach to the problem.  Don’t solve the wrong problem!

How?  Empathy.  Understand human elements of the problem before you get to addressing design problem.  Next, undertake very rapid process of experimentation.

Empathy — Define — Ideate — Prototype — Test  (DBR:  need to assess the costs of failure.  What are the practical risks of ideation and prototyping?)


Live blogging from the Future of Law School Innovation, Colorado Law

Sponsored by Silicon Flatirons, a Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado.


First panel is actually a “fireside chat,” with George Kembel, Global Director and Co-Founder of Stanford

Phil Weiser (Colorado dean) intro:  lawyers are not innovators, by and large.  Langdellian model keeps its grip.  We have existential challenge of what the new model looks like.

Trying to be subversive.


A most unfortunate narrative

Many law schools are working hard to keep up enrollments and student credentials; some are indeed struggling.  As deans and university leaders work hard to make adjustments on the expenses side in order to deal constructively with these difficult issues, there has emerged an almost daily narrative about how the sky is falling (which is isn’t).

The most recent iteration of this is the news emerging from a handful of schools that faculty members are being offered retirement incentives.  Although I am in no vantage point to assess the wisdom of any of these strategies for any of these law schools, it strikes me as a sensible reaction to enrollment circumstances that are, for the most part, currently out of control for some law schools.  The business of retirement incentives is not, of course, a new phenomenon.  With the end of mandatory retirement, university departments can manage human resource costs only by looking at creative tactics such as retirement incentives.  Sometimes this will involve more senior (and typically highly compensated) members of the community; other times, given the long careers ahead of young faculty members, this will involve incentives nearer the front end.  These incentives create a dynamic of negotiation not distinct from any other sort of employer-worker negotiation.  They are tried-and-true carrots, not sticks.

That law schools are looking to manage their costs by taking close looks at their faculty labor force seems entirely sensible.  It is hardly the harbinger of disaster; and, like the press releases that are attached to these proposals, these are important messages to the wider community of students and alumni that the law schools are looking at constructive ways of preserving strong academic programs and high quality in their student bodies.

These should be welcome developments.  Folks like our friends at Above the Law, who are habitually cranky about law school decisionmaking and the motivations of academic leaders, should say:  “Hurray.  It’s about time law schools take a hard look at costs.”  But, instead, the headline of the day is essentially “Law Schools are Crashing Around Us.  Witness the Scramble to ‘Kick Out’ Faculty Members.”  Think I am exaggerating?  Here’s a link to a post by the sober Pepperdine Law professor and influential blogger, Paul Caron.

Take a breath, doomsayers.  Have some perspective.  This is evidence of adaptation, not desperation.  And you are not helping the general situation, IMHO!


On the law school “brain drain”

Smart post by Prof. Muller at Pepperdine.

He points out that the current data shows that the principal brain drain is at the lower end of the LSAT distribution.  For the most competitive students, including students who will be competitive at Northwestern and certain other schools, there has in fact been a slight to moderate uptick in the percentage of these students applying to law school.

None of this contradicts the central fact that law school applications are down nationwide, but it does illustrate the utility of more fine-grained data as we consider these matters.


Competition in the new legal marketplace

from another prominent legal futurist, this time Jordan Furlong.

Two thoughts:

On the observation that regulation will wither away, this hasn’t been the path of legal change has predicted over many years.  Regulation in the legal profession (and in legal education) has proved remarkably resilient, even in the face of competitive pressures.  Just consider the stunning lack of bar reciprocity and also the various restrictions on pro se representation.  Or, in the law school context, the limitations on supervised student representation, even where there are enormous unmet legal needs.  So perhaps Furlong is right that regulation is under especially sustained assault and will crumble.  But we shouldn’t count our chickens.

On the “creating new markets” message:  yes indeed.  I have written about this elsewhere on this blog.  In the future — indeed, in the present — lawyers are entrepreneurs and regulatory engineers, business professionals and risk managers.  The business of lawyering is going through significant change, and how JD holders can deploy their skills to improve structures and institutions and business decision-making is an essential modern question.  Law is important for folks other than lawyers; and lawyers are important for business performance in spaces other than traditionally legal.


Wisdom of the law school crowds

Engaged closely these days with strategic planning and developing innovations that will enhance the quality of a Northwestern legal education while also tackling the high costs and high debt of our students and graduates, we naturally turn our attention to how other schools are facing these challenges.

The wisdom of the law school crowds as a fertile source of guidance.

For at least the quarter century in which U.S. News rankings have perniciously influenced our functioning, the temptation and tendency of law schools was to follow the leader.  Innovation was the exception, not the rule; law schools moved ahead with structural reforms incrementally, if at all.  And, to one’s great surprise, reforms generally pushed toward business and educational models that looked very much like law schools ranked at or very near the top.

Everyone knows the next chapter:  Law schools have found keeping up with the Harvards and Yales too expensive and insufficient attuned to the dynamics and needs of their professional contexts and student requirements.

A positive by-product of the present economic predicaments facing many American law schools, especially those at the top of the pecking order, has been fast-moving innovation and a refocus on the mission of the institution.  With respect to employment in particular, many law schools have newly embraced their identity as regional law schools — as schools embedded in discrete regions of the U.S. and in service of the students who will likely seek careers in these regions.  The regionalization of (most) U.S. law schools is a welcome development, if regrettable that it has taken severe economic pressures to push ahead these efforts.

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